W. H. Auden, Arthur C. Clarke, Jacob Bronowski, Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan were admirers of Mr. Gardner. Vladimir Nabokov mentioned him in his novel “Ada” as “an invented philosopher.” An asteroid is named for him.
Mr. Gardner responded that his life was not all that interesting, really. “It’s lived mainly inside my brain,” he told The Charlotte Observer in 1993.
His was a clarifying intelligence: he said his talent was asking good questions and transmitting the answers clearly and crisply. In “Annotated Alice” (1960), Mr. Gardner literally rained on the parade of his hero, Lewis Carroll.
Carroll writes of a “golden afternoon” in the first line of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a reference to an actual day rowing on the Thames. Mr. Gardner found that the day, July 4, 1862, was, in truth, “cool and rather wet.”
Mr. Gardner’s questions were often mathematical. What is special about the number 8,549,176,320? As Mr. Gardner explained in “The Incredible Dr. Matrix” (1976), the number is the 10 natural integers arranged in English alphabetical order.
The title of a book he published in 2000 was calculated to tweak religious fundamentalists — “Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?” — suggesting that the first man and woman had had umbilical cords. This time he gave no answer.
“Gardner has an old-fashioned, almost 19th-century, Oliver Wendell Holmes kind of American mind — self-educated, opinionated, cranky and utterly unafraid of embarrassment,” Adam Gopnik wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1999.
Martin Gardner was born Oct. 21, 1914, in Tulsa, Okla., where his father, a petroleum geologist, started an oil company. As a boy he liked magic tricks, chess, science and collecting mechanical puzzles.
Unbeknownst to his mother at the time, he learned to read by looking at the words on the page as she read him L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. As an adult, he wrote a sequel to Baum’s “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” called “Visitors From Oz,” in which Dorothy encounters characters from the “Alice” books and Geraldo Rivera.
Mr. Gardner majored in philosophy at the University of Chicago, from which he graduated in 1936. In 1937 he returned to Oklahoma to be assistant oil editor of The Tulsa Tribune at $15 a week. Quickly bored, he returned to the University of Chicago, where he worked in press relations and moonlighted selling magic kits.
He joined the Navy and served on a destroyer. While doing night watch duty, he thought up crazy plots for stories, including “The Horse on the Escalator,” which he sold to Esquire magazine.
After a stint as editor of Humpty Dumpty, a children’s magazine, Mr. Gardner began a long relationship with Scientific American with an article in 1956 on hexaflexagons, strips of paper that can be folded in certain ways to reveal faces besides the two that were originally on the front and back. When the publisher suggested that he write a column about mathematical games, he jumped at the chance.
By his account, Mr. Gardner then rushed out to secondhand bookstores to find books about math puzzles, an approach he used for years to keep just ahead of his monthly deadline. “The number of puzzles I’ve invented you can count on your fingers,” he told The Times last year.
Dr. Hofstadter, who succeeded Mr. Gardner at Scientific American, said Mr. Gardner achieved elegant results by drawing on fields from logic to the philosophy of science to literature. He conveyed “the magical quality of mathematics,” Dr. Hofstadter said.
Mr. Gardner, who lived in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., for most of the years he wrote for Scientific American, resigned from the magazine in 1981. Two years later he began a column in Skeptical Inquirer, “Notes of a Fringe Watcher,” which he continued to write until 2002. He had already begun beating this drum, debunking psuedoscience, in his book “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.” He helped found the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
In The New York Review of Books in 1982, Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, called Mr. Gardner “the single brightest beacon defending rationality and good science against the mysticism and anti-intellectualism that surround us.”
There was much more, including his annotated editions of “Casey at the Bat” and “The Night Before Christmas.” In his philosophical writing Mr. Gardner rejected speculative metaphysics because it could not be proved logically or empirically. He wrestled with religion in essays and in a novel that described his personal journey from fundamentalism, “The Flight of Peter Fromm” (1973). He ultimately found no reason to believe in anything religious except a human desire to avoid “deep-seated despair.” So, he said, he believed in God.
After retiring from Scientific American, Mr. Gardner lived for many years in Hendersonville, N.C. His wife, the former Charlotte Greenwald, died in 2000. Besides his son James, of Norman, he is survived by another son, Thomas, of Asheville, N.C., and three grandchildren. For all Mr. Gardner’s success in refuting those who take advantage of people’s gullibility, he sometimes could not help having fun with it himself. In one Scientific American column, he wrote that dwelling in pyramids could increase everything from intelligence to sexual prowess. In another he asked readers to remember the holiday that begins the month of April.
“I just play all the time,” he said in an interview with Skeptical Inquirer in 1998, “and am fortunate enough to get paid for it.”Continue reading the main story
Martin Gardner Biography
Martin Gardner lived a very long and extremely productive life. Born on 21 Oct 1914 in Tulsa, OK, USA, he earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago (1936), served four years (1942–1946) in the Navy, and then moved to New York City, where he married Charlotte Greenwald in 1952, and had two sons, Jim and Tom.
Martin forged a highly influential career as a writer, in different but often overlapping fields, authoring over 100 mostly non-fiction books along the way. After a half century based in New York and then Hendersonville, NC, he relocated to Norman, OK, following the 2000 passing of his wife. He remained very active right up till his death on 22 May 2010, publishing reviews, articles and books into his mid-nineties.
From keen magician to world-renowned authorMartin's first publication was a magic trick for the Sphinx in May 1930. He was fifteen years old, and went on to publish for a further 80 years, in a bewildering breadth of fields. The last publication in his lifetime was a magic trick that he contributed to the May 2010 issue of Word Ways. Happily, both tricks can be found together in this 80 Years of Gardner Magic article by Jerry & Karen Farrell.
After a decade of occasional publishing for the magic brotherhood—during which he earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago (1936)—he did a brief and unrewarding stint as a reporter for the Tulsa Tribune, honed his writing skills a few years in the University of Chicago Office of Press Relations, and then spent the period 1942–1945 in the Navy.
Upon returning to civilian life, he placed several short stories with Esquire magazine, including what he termed his best-known science-fiction yarn, "The No-Sided Professor," which reflected his growing fascination with topology. Most of his Esquire stories resurfaced later in the book The No-Sided Professor and Other Tales of Fantasy, Humor, Mystery, and Philosophy (Prometheus, 1987).
Around 1947 he moved to New York City, where he soon became friends with many top magicians. He married in 1952, having been introduced to his future wife Charlotte Greenwald by magician Bill Simon, and spent the rest of the decade as contributing editor for Humpty Dumpty's Magazine for children. In that job he found himself writing a poem and a story each week, as well as devising a great deal of activities that involved paper cutting and folding, all of which would stand him in good stead in the years ahead.
The 1950s also saw Martin's career as a writer of books take off; by his own reckoning, he left us over 100 of them. His extensive writings reflected his numerous and diverse passions, including table and close-up magic, philosophy and theology, rationality and skepticism, science, and recreational mathematics. Martin's best seller by far was The Annotated Alice (Potter, 1960), and it certainly launched a genre.
One of the last projects he completed was his memoirs Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, issued by Princeton University Press (Sep 2013).
For an overview of his life in quotes from him and others, see Dana Richard's PDF file "Martin Gardner: A Documentary."
Internet searches will of course bring up many biographical articles, some more accurate than others.
Simple Wikipedia page
Wikipedia page in Latin
MacTutor History of Mathematics
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction